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Ciampi Paris SOCD395

Marcel Ciampi (piano)
Live in Concert – Paris 1955-56
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 (c. 1717) [12:57]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Keyboard Concerto in D major, Hob.XVIII:11 (1770) [19:29]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata, Op.57, in F Minor "Appassionata" (1804-05) [20:35]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Préludes Book 1 & 2 selections [25:40]
L’Association des Concerts de chambre de Paris/Fernand Oubradous
rec. Salle Gaveau, 1955-56
SOLSTICE SOCD395 [80:04]

If you’re wise, you’ll never pass by a Marcel Ciampi release. I’ve charted his small studio discography in previous reviews (review ̴ review) but Solstice’s latest disc offers a chance to catch two live performances given at the Salle Gaveau in 1955-56. They were recorded by French Radio before an audience but have not seen the light of day since then, having nestled overlooked in the archives of the National Audiovisual Institute – until now. It’s timely that they have been found by Solstice as they chart the final years of Ciampi’s concert giving life. He retired from public performance in 1958 largely to focus on teaching.

Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 was played in December 1956 and opens the programme and immediately one is forcibly reminded just how communicative a player Ciampi was. There’s nothing reserved or barnstorming about the performance; there is much refined clarity, discriminating musicality in the voicings and trills and in his sculpted use of the left hand. Inevitably there are technical slips in so attractive a performance as this, but they are of little significance. Haydn’s Concerto follows, though it comes from the concert of the previous year. Ciampi is accompanied by the orchestra of L’Association des Concerts de chambre de Paris directed by the experienced Fernand Oubradous. Best to focus on the soloist here as things go haywire orchestrally speaking from time to time and the slow movement sees some extraordinarily odd wind pitching problems – I thought it was a tape glitch at first. Ciampi plays his own cadenzas and adds some embellishments and ornaments, all in fine style. One’s ear is irresistibly drawn to the pianist in the Rondo all’Ungarese finale.

Beethoven’s Appassionata is no less free of dropped notes than was the Haydn or Bach but is yet more evidence of a musician who fearlessly communicated directly with an audience. He had the unforgettable quality of musical spontaneity and this quality courses freely throughout a sonata that tests him, and occasionally defeats him, technically. The result emerges as the more heroic as a result. This can hardly be recommended as an example of spotless perfection but is the product of a live performance not subject to retakes or edits.

Amongst Ciampi’s most valuable studio recordings are those of Debussy whom he had met back in 1917. His playing is wonderfully conceived, illuminated by colour and phrasal beauties. The Preludes, five from Book I and three from Book II, come from different concerts and the difference in sound quality between the 1955 and ’56 concerts is certainly audible, the latter date being strongly preferable. However, it is especially valuable to hear those Preludes that he hadn’t recorded commercially on 78s back in the late 20s and early 30s – such as Général Lavine – eccentric and Les tierces alternées. Of these examples Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest is a particular highlight in playfulness and robust spontaneity but Feux d’artifice is formidable too.
The booklet is very efficiently put together with some evocative photographs. A special word of praise to annotator Frédéric Gaussin’s outstanding notes, splendidly translated into English by John Tyler Tuttle.
There are inevitably hits and misses in live performances such as this, not least when the artist is in his mid-60s and approaching concert retirement. However, there is much to excite and entertain in this disc, the focal point of which must be the Debussy.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

Préludes – Book 1 (1907-10): X. La cathédrale engloutie [5:40]: V. Les collines d’Anacapri [3:15]: VI. Des pas sur la neige [2:55]: VII. Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest [3:22]: VIII. La fille aux cheveux de lin [2:00]
Préludes – Book 2 (1913): VI. Général Lavine – eccentric [2:14]: XI. Les tierces alternées [2:50]: XII. Feux d’artifice [4:24]

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